13 OF '13
Professor Paul Hearty measuring a shell
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Signs of a 'Sea Change'

Evidence of global warming grabbed headlines in 2013, renewing public interest in what a warmer climate will mean for Earth's future inhabitants.

UNCW researcher Paul Hearty and a world-class team of scientists received a $4.25 million grant from the National Science foundation to study historic environmental evidence (such as fossils, glaciers and geologic formations) for clues about tomorrow's world.

In 2013, the team's initial findings were featured in The New York Times, Climate Today and on Dec. 3 in the open access journal PLOS ONE. Hearty, an associate professor in UNCW's environmental studies department, is one of five principal investigators on the PLIOMAX team. His colleagues hail from Columbia, Harvard and Penn State Universities, the Universities of Massachusetts and South Carolina, and Curtin University in Australia.

Their name comes from the Pliocene, a time period about 3 million years ago when the Earth's climate was 2 or 3 degrees centigrade (3.6 to 5.4 F) warmer than it is now and sea levels were higher. Evidence indicates that Earth could reach these temperatures again later this century. Since 40 percent of the world's population works and lives within 100 kilometers (approximately 62 miles) of a coastline, determining warmer temperatures' effect on sea level is critically important.

By understanding the response of nature to past global changes, Hearty and his colleagues hopes that future generations will be better prepared to cope with the anticipated effects of climate and sea change.